‘The best of the best’
More than 100 people gathered Tuesday at a flag-lowering ceremony at Whitworth College to remember Army 1st Lt. Forrest P. Ewens. The Whitworth graduate was killed Friday in Afghanistan when his all-terrain vehicle struck a roadside bomb.
Ewens’ former ROTC commander, his history professor and others praised his determination, courage and honor, describing him as the track team captain who would compete so hard he would pass out from exhaustion; the dedicated history major determined to learn about both the good and bad in America’s past; and the student who embraced ROTC after watching his identical twin brother, Oaken, flourish in the program.
“He was the best of the best, very sincere, loyal, hardworking, passionate. He was selfless,” said Lt. Col. Alan Westfield, a Gonzaga assistant professor of military science and one of Ewens’ ROTC instructors.
Ewens, 25, was an infantry officer with the 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division of Fort Drum, N.Y.
“He wanted to experience college life before committing to ROTC,” said Westfield.
Westfield said that after watching the fellowship his twin brother Oaken found with ROTC, Forrest Ewens signed up, too: “The community drew him in.”
And once there, Ewens pushed himself past his limits, Westfield said.
Dean of Whitworth Chapel Terry McGonigal read from an e-mail Whitworth track coach Toby Schwarz sent to past and current track team members.
Recalling the team’s 2001 conference championship, McGonigal wrote about his request that the team play it safe in the final men’s relay race to preserve the championship, even if it meant not winning that race.
“I remember Forrest making the comment, ‘I want to win the race, but I will do whatever it takes for the team to win.’ That was Forrest,” Schwarz wrote.
Schwarz spoke to Ewens two days before he was deployed to Afghanistan.
“Forrest commented on how the spiritual growth that he underwent during his time at Whitworth and on the team gave him the confidence that no matter what happened, God was in control,” Schwarz wrote.
Ewens spent his early years in Gig Harbor before moving with his family to the Chewelah area, where he graduated from Jenkins High School. He met his wife Megan, also a first lieutenant with the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, when the two were in Whitworth’s and Gonzaga University’s combined “Bulldog Battalion” ROTC program.
Forrest’s brother Oaken left the ROTC after his sophomore year to attend West Point.
Ewens’ younger brother, Elijah, also joined the military and is now serving as a Washington Army National Guard specialist.
Parents Carol and Michael Ewens moved back to Gig Harbor, where a memorial service will be held Thursday at Peninsula Christian Fellowship, where Forrest was baptized.
The family will hold another memorial service at Fort Bragg before burying Ewens at Arlington National Cemetery, said Wakefield.
The American flag at Whitworth will fly at half-staff until Ewens’ burial.
Army veteran Gerald Garcia attended Tuesday’s ceremony to remember the young officer in training he witnessed a few years ago washing pots and pans in the Whitworth cafeteria.
“I asked him, ‘What’s an officer doing washing dishes?’ and he said, ‘I could use the money because I’m getting married,’ ” Garcia said, adding that showed the type of person Ewens was.
As taps played at Tuesday’s ceremony, tears welled up in Garcia’s eyes. He removed his cap and saluted.